Swachh Bharat: Can Indian FMCGs CleanIndia?
29-01-2016 | Swachh Bharat, CleanIndia, Swachh Bharat AbhiyaanAuthor :-
During a brief stint in advertising, I worked on an AV to publicise an initiative one of our clients, a FMCG, had run in rural Bihar. Agency and brand had hit on the idea of pushing hair oil on the back of a cleanliness drive: hook the consumers in with messages and suggestions for a healthier life, and then switch to hard selling product. And yes, rope in some of the youngsters to be "cleanliness ambassadors", rewarding those who volunteered with a goodie bag. It was hoped that the freebies would motivate them to drive cleanliness in the village long after the company with its vans and hectoring promoters moved on. The activity wound down in the early months of monsoon. But as we cut the AV, we thought it would be a good idea to check back with the volunteers and see how they'd been doing. It wasn't.
Let's just say the volunteers, mainly young women, were motivated more by a tote bag than by an abiding commitment to sanitation. Many of them never expected to be asked to give an account of themselves, especially on camera, some five months down the line, and their only response to our questions was to stare in blank horror. The problem was less with the youngsters and more with the structure of the programme: a mistake that more companies than just this FMCG made.
For too long marketers dallied with causes. Cleanliness, especially in the rural context, was and remains a perennial favourite. But very few firms have either the budgets or the commitment to see it through to the end. Mainly because there really is no end; at least none that's in plain sight.
Starting off on a slightly gimmicky note, with its selfies with brooms and a pay it forward style campaign liberally inspired by the Ice Bucket Challenge, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has finally got champions in the FMCG industry. Reckitt Benckiser was the first off the bat. And more recently India's largest FMCG Hindustan Unilever has come up with a massive campaign driving the clean agenda, as has homegrown FMCG major Dabur.
There are some obvious places to start and pretty much every FMCG worth its salt is partnering in educating people, particularly children and in the building of toilets (See Being Swachh). Not just FMCG; the Confederation of Indian Industry committed to building 10,000 toilets. Oil and coal PSUs claimed they'd build one lakh toilets in schools across the country in a year. The Bharti Foundation and TCS pledged Rs 100 crore each.
However, the problem is not only about infrastructure. On a rural visit, Sanjiv Mehta, MD and CEO at HUL discovered that while several households had toilets, they weren't used regularly. He got flippant responses from people who claimed they liked the idea of going to the bog in the open with their mates, but a response that resonated was from a person who said he didn't want his wife to clean a toilet and so avoided using the one he had at home. A study by the National Sample Survey Office published in November last year found only 46% of the 95 lakh toilets built in rural India were used for their intended purpose. The problems range from the infrastructural: toilets with no running water to the ideological.
Which explains why HUL opted for the multimedia and on ground Haath Munh Aur Bum campaign, focusing on handwash, pure drinking water and clean toilets, in the hopes that the same behaviour change model that got people to shift from soaps to shampoos may persuade them to adopt healthier habits. HUL is gunning for a 3% shift in awareness post the activation. The branding is, by FMCG standards, subtle. HUL is not ending its activations with sampling and sale, claiming it would rather people adopt habits than specifically push brands via this initiative. To the point where at a recent event in a school in Mumbai, when a few kids began to sing the Dettol jingle as promoters spoke of handwash, no attempt was made to "correct" them or push Lifebuoy instead.
It's of course a little too much to expect brands to do this for purely social reasons. Branding, though covert, is present in all HUL's initiatives. Reckitt Benckiser managing director Nitish Kapoor says: "Over the last one year, we have made a considerable progress in driving behaviour change towards hygiene and sanitation." But Reckitt-Benckiser has seen an uptick in sales too following its linkage to Swachh Bharat.
The cleaning industry is poised to experience 30% growth according to Ken Research's India Toiletries. Praveen Khandelwal, director at Pranay Impex, says: "The home cleaning equipment industry stands at Rs 4,500 crore and has potential to scale up 20%-30% annually."
Which is why marketing consultants like Market Gate's Shripad Nadkarni believe the association with Swachh Bharat stands to benefit the brands to a greater extent: "Unless you are committing huge amounts of money that you'd normally put aside for CSR it becomes tactical. I think the issue with Swachh Bharat is more social than personal."
For years, marketing has laboured under the bad rap of being an industry that convinces people to "buy things they don't need." Which is a little disingenuous because people obviously need the products they buy for reasons that go past the merely functional. Beyond profit motives and good intentions, it boils down to this: do Indians believe they need cleanliness, hygiene and a Swachh Bharat as much as they need a new toothpaste? The behaviour change model touted by companies has succeeded since the changes were relatively easy to make. And setting aside the HUL catchphrase of Swachh Aadat leading to Swachh Bharat, there's a yawning chasm between personal hygiene and a clean country, where our rivers and outdoors are not choked with trash. It remains an area where no brand, however intent it is on a Swachh Bharat, has dared to tread so far. Any takers?